Nadal hits back over motivation doubts

Melbourne: A combative Rafa Nadal returned serve at sceptics who have questioned his motivation at the Australian Open on Sunday, saying the passion he lost toward the end of last season had returned and that he was fighting fit to take down 2011 nemesis Novak Djokovic.

Nadal won a sixth French Open title but endured a disappointing season by his own sky-high standards, losing his world number one ranking and six consecutive finals to the Serbian.

Nadal, who suffered an early exit from the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals, admitted to losing his usual passion amid struggles with a shoulder injury at the end of the season, but said the media were making too much of it.

"That`s nothing crazy," he said. "That happens when you are a little bit more tired than usual. Maybe you`re not doing your job all the time with the same passion because you`re tired. That`s part of the job."

Nadal plays American qualifier Alex Kuznetsov in the first round on Monday and said he had come to Australia "with big motivation, with big passion".

"I`m happy. I am practising well. I`m enjoying everything. I will try to be ready for tomorrow."

Rarely one to make bullish statements about his leadup form into grand slams, Nadal has little cause to do so this year after bowing out of the Qatar Open with a surprise semi-final defeat to French world number 15 Gael Monfils.

Some observers say the 25-year-old has been worked out by Djokovic, who has picked apart the Spaniard`s game by pouncing on his serve and relatively weak backhand to dictate play.

Djokovic remains heavy on Nadal`s mind and he nominated the Serbian as the man blocking his way to an 11th grand slam crown.

"There are a lot of fantastic players around," he said.

"Novak is the best because last year he had a fantastic year. He`s the No. 1 today. He deserves to be there."

Nadal said he had a couple of things he needed to work on but he was happy that he was in good shape physically.

"I am healthy. That`s the first thing, the first important thing. Without that, you cannot think about other things. I am healthy and I am ready to work hard."

Despite the positive prognosis on his shoulder, Nadal, who has withdrawn from Davis Cup tennis for 2012 after steering Spain to a fifth title in December, reaffirmed that he would be taking a break after the Australian Open to fully recuperate.

He also volunteered no details about how he might take Djokovic down but he has turned to a heavier racquet to boost his power. Fully coming to grips with it could take months.

"When you have a change like this, you lose a little bit of control in the beginning, you win a little bit more power at the beginning. At the end, after a few months, you feel like it is your racquet. Nothing changes."

Nadal also indicated on Sunday he would no longer be taking a public stand in relation to players` demands over pay and the tennis calendar as he feared being misunderstood and said his voice would not help to change anything anyway.

"I`m the one who in the past talked a lot about the calendar, talked a lot about the Davis Cup, talked a lot about the problem with the U.S. Open," the world number two told reporters.

"But at the end of the day I look like I am the one who is always talking about things that must change ... I just lose time, energy."

Bureau Report

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